Composer Pinar Toprak Cracks Celluloid Ceiling with Captain Marvel

Toprak will be the first female composer to score a major superhero movie.

June 27, 2018

The past couple of years have been good ones in the Hall of Justice for women in superhero films. Last year, DC Films released Wonder Woman, the first major comic book movie directed by a woman, and last week Marvel announced that it hired Pinar Toprak B.M. ‘00 to score next March's Captain Marvel. She will be the first female composer to score a major superhero movie.

"It’s an incredible honor to be a part of the Marvel Universe," Toprak wrote on Instagram. "So many thoughts racing through my head. And the main one is gratitude."

Of the 250 top-grossing films of last year only 3 percent were scored by a woman.

—Alison Plante, chair of Film Scoring

After graduating from Berklee with a degree in film scoring, Toprak went to Los Angeles to further her education and start her career. She’s since worked on more than 40 feature films as well as several video games and television projects. She recently scored the Superman prequel series Krypton for the Sci-Fi Channel, and she contributed music to Danny Elfman’s score for DC's feature film Justice League.

In addition to her vibrant scoring career, for the past several years she’s taught Film Scoring 101 for Berklee Online, giving students invaluable real-world insight into the field.

The Celluloid Ceiling

Since 2000, the year Toprak graduated, DC and Marvel have released a total of 65 films, all scored by men—a fact that is not unusual in the movie business.

“The ‘celluloid ceiling’ is well-known at this point, and nowhere is it more difficult to break into studio filmmaking than in composing, where of the 250 top-grossing films of last year only 3 percent were scored by a woman,” says Alison Plante, the chair of Berklee’s Film Scoring Department. “Big tentpole films like the Marvel superhero movies have proven especially resistant to diversifying.”

So have other major studios. Last year’s Coco was the first Pixar movie to have a female composer, Germaine Franco.

One reason men continue to dominate film scoring might be that studios want to go with what they know. They might say, “Well, we’re just going to go back to the same guys we keep going back to because we at least know they can handle it. Because it’s kind of a risk, right? If a studio is dropping $300 million on a movie…they really want to find someone that’s going to be like an ace in the hole for them,” composer Jessica Rae Huber B.M. ‘12 told Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness on his podcast, Getting Curious.

Often women will be part of the larger composing team, but won’t be the person who has her name on the score. “At the high studio level, it is a very hard thing to break into,” Huber says.

But groups such as the Alliance for Women Film Composers are working to increase the visibility for female composers and to create opportunity for them, as are Laura Karpman in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and Tori Letzler '12 with the Future is Female concert series, says Plante.

“I’ve seen my female alumni shoot out farther and faster than was previously possible,” she says. News such as the Toprak hire have encouraged her that maybe the ceiling is starting to crack after all.